The San Antonio Spurs needed to begin the NBA restart with two straight wins to reenter the playoff picture. Mission accomplished. After defeating the Sacramento Kings on Friday, the Spurs followed that up with a 108-106 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. With the win, the Spurs are in sole possession of the ninth seed and are only two games back of the eighth seeded Grizzlies.
The good guys were crisp coming out of the gates. Playing relatively well on both ends of the court, the Spurs led 31-25 after the first quarter. It was a nip and tuck contest in the second quarter, with San Antonio taking a 59-54 lead into the halftime break.
The Spurs seemed to grab control of the game in the third stanza. They gained a double-digit advantage less than two minutes into the half and carried an 85-76 into the fourth. The good times continued in the final quarter, as San Antonio led by 11 points, 94-83, with seven and a half minutes remaining. The Grizzlies, to their credit, were able to claw back.
A 9-0 run by Memphis cut the Spurs’ lead to two point. San Antonio was able to rebuild their advantage to eight points, 102-94, with 3:20 on the clock. But, again, the Grizzlies bounced right back. This time, it was a 7-0 run to get within a point.
DeMar DeRozan responded with two big buckets but a layup by Ja Morant and a difficult three-pointer by the son of Spurs legend Jaren Jackson tied the game at 106-106.
As the clock ticked down, DeRozan had one more heroic play in his bag. He drew a foul with a pump fake with one second remaining and was able to connect on both free throws. After Jackson Jr. missed a three at the buzzer, San Antonio’s victory was official.
Overall, it was another really good win. The Spurs played much better defense than they did against the Kings and the team’s youth continues to shine. San Antonio was a longshot to make the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season but now they’ve given themselves a fighting chance. Their schedule only gets more difficult from here but the Silver and Black have to be feeling pretty good about themselves.
Spurs vs. Grizzlies – Final Grades
DeMar DeRozan’s game against the Grizzlies was a lot like his outing versus the Kings. For the first three quarters, DeRozan looked to create opportunities for teammates. In the fourth quarter, DeRozan took it upon himself to bring the Spurs home. While he didn’t play nearly as well as he did in the Sacramento game, DeRozan did a lot of good things. His passing was solid throughout, he took reasonably good care of the ball and he made some huge plays down the stretch (outside of two missed free throws that almost proved fatal). Defensively, I thought his effort level was higher than usual. There were some negatives, though, as he spent a lot of the game complaining to the refs and his reluctance to shoot clogged the lanes. All in all, I like how DeRozan is playing. He looks comfortable taking a backseat for large stretches yet he’s fully prepared to steer the ship when it’s needed most.
After a tough opener in the restart, Dejounte Murray rebounded nicely against the Grizzlies. Looking to make things happen early and often, Murray led the Spurs in points (21) and boards (10). He took care of the basketball, his midrange jumper looks silky and he’s not bashful about launching from downtown. Murray didn’t create for teammates too often — although, with so many ballhandlers in the rotation nowadays, it’s not yet clear if that should even be in his job description any longer. Defensively, while Ja Morant produced (25 points, nine assists and nine rebounds), I thought Murray was much better than he was versus the Kings. He was active in the passing lanes while being smarter about his reaching and his positioning.
Derrick White’s shooting accuracy betrayed him a bit, as he was 1-for-4 on two-pointers and 5-for-8 from the line. However, his three-point shooting (3-for-8) continues to be heartening. While the makes from beyond the arc are impressive, what’s even more notable right now is that he’s willing to shoot from deep whenever he has a glimpse of the rim. The Spurs need White to shoot threes by the truckload and he’s doing just that. Not only does it improve the spacing, the threat of his shot gives White lanes into the paint. And with how well he can pass on the move, that’s huge for him and team. Against the Grizzlies, White had seven assists and no turnovers while authoring countless heady passes. Defensively, he was solid one-on-one and helped out on the boards. His team-defense, though, was iffy — particularly in transition.
Lonnie Walker IV
Lonnie Walker was 2-for-5 on three-pointers; his shot from three looks great right now. Sadly, he was 2-for-7 on two-pointers. Walker just isn’t attacking the rim with enough bravery or enough strength. He’s too athletic to rely on fadeaway layups as his go-to finishing move in the lane. Defensively, he was pretty good when chasing his man around screens but he lacked a bit of toughness on that end, as well. He didn’t rebound with enough force and didn’t hold his ground in the paint well enough.
When Jakob Poeltl was in the game, the Spurs looked really good. His defense was extra stout, his rotations were right on time and he boxed out well. Offensively, his confidence is growing and he’s learning where to be when he’s surrounded by munchkins. Unfortunately, Poeltl couldn’t stay on the court due to foul trouble. Fouls have been an issue for him since the start of the scrimmages. If he wants to show the league that he’s a starting caliber center, Poeltl needs to prove that he can avoid being hampered by fouls.
Yikes. When Rudy Gay wasn’t missing shots (he was only 3-for-15 from the field), he was fumbling the ball away (he had a team-high four turnovers). Gay just can’t dribble in traffic anymore. When he does, it’s almost guaranteed that he will lose the ball. He compounded that ballhandling issue today by missing open shots. Thankfully, he nailed a big three-pointer late in the fourth and played decently well on the defensive end to retain some of his value.
Call him Big Body or call him Mustang but let’s hope Pop continues to call Keldon Johnson’s number on a consistent basis. It’s getting difficult to not be really excited about the rookie’s development. On both sides of the court, Johnson plays with a contagious amount of ferocity. Offensively, the 20-year-old hit a three-pointer with a much-improved stroke. He also threw around his weight in the paint to create opportunities. Defensively, he’s supremely focused for a rookie and has improved his quickness as the season has progressed. Johnson also pulls down contested rebounds with ease. Let’s hope he continues to progress. As it stands, Johnson is playing well enough to justify 25-plus minutes every night.
Drew Eubanks was productive in terms of the counting stats: eight points, five rebounds and two blocks. His athleticism was on display at various moments and his effort level was high. But … Eubanks still has a long way to go in terms of learning how to play winning basketball. His rotations on defense are off and his reaction time in all phases is a beat slow. The good news is that Eubanks is only 23 and you don’t have to squint too hard to see his potential. If his feel for the game gets better, he could be an NBA player. With that in mind, let’s hope he stays in the rotation for the rest of the restart, if only for experience purposes.
Hey, look who is still an NBA player. After sitting out the scrimmages and the first regular season game, Patty Mills dusted off his jersey and returned to action. He reportedly needed to beg Pop to play and the head coach relented since the Spurs were without Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli due to injuries. Mills was good on offense. He gave the Spurs another ballhandler and his fearless shooting provided a needed punch. Defensively, Mills started off really, really timid and he got overwhelmed multiple times. Thankfully, he recovered and put up more of a fight as the game progressed.
Quinndary Weatherspoon only played three minutes against the Grizzlies after playing ten minutes against the Kings. In his limited time, Weatherspoon continued to play with confidence. He doesn’t look like a rookie when he’s out there, which is a positive sign for his development.
I can’t complain much when both White and Murray are given 34 minutes of playing time. We’ve waited all season for that. I also liked that he showed trust in Johnson, let Eubanks learn on the fly and didn’t overplay Mills. It was tough to watch Gay on the court for 29 minutes but, then again, with Poeltl in foul trouble the Spurs did need to have some non-guards on the court. Overall, Pop deserves credit for changing with the times, trusting his youth and keeping the intensity high despite San Antonio’s long odds heading into the restart.